Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mulching Your Way To Beauty

By Keith Markensen

Mulching not only protects the shallow roots of Chrysanthemums from the heat but keeps the soil cool and holds the moisture. It protects the lower leaves from soil splashing when rain falls. Soil splashed on the leaves looks untidy besides encouraging foliar nematodes. Mulching keeps down weeds and cultivation is unnecessary. Any material that does not pack and permits air penetration is good for mulching. I do not like peat because it forms a mat on top and water enters with difficulty.

Feeding may be carried out with the watering program. Each two or three weeks is often enough to feed if the beds were well enriched before planting. I use a 5-10-5 commercial fertilizer, follow directions in mixing and apply soon after watering the plot. Fertilizer applied to dry roots will burn them. Some growers apply a two-inch top dressing of manure in July, repeat the process in August, again in September and that is the end of their feeding. They grow fine mums. Because it is trouble to remove the mulch and replace it, and because well-rotted barnyard fertilizer is not easy to get. I use the commercial product. In any case feeding should stop when color shows, otherwise the bloom is likely to be soft and of poor quality.

Some provision must be made for staking and tying by those who are growing the football size mums. I have used stakes, tying the plant to the stake as it grows. The stakes should be set soon after the plants are set but before the mulch is put in place. I have also used a soft stout twine. One end of the twine is tied loosely at the base of the plant, and the other end fastened to a strong wire strung along the row overhead. As the plants grew they were gently wrapped with cord. Both methods are good. One drawback to the stakes is that they must have storage space when not in use. The twine may be destroyed each season.


Another important point is pinching and disbudding. Pinching is to force out new growth and control the number of stems for the number of blooms desired. Disbudding is removing all unwanted buds as they appear so that all nourishment can go into the number of blooms desired. When the plant is about four inches high pinch out the tip. In about three weeks two small branches should appear. These should be pinched to the tip leaves just like trimming houseplants leaves. The original plant will soon have four branches. If four blooms to the plant is all you want be sure to pinch off any other branches that may appear. If you want more blossoms to the plant, then let other branches grow. Remember that the blooms on a six blossom plant will be smaller than those on a two blossom plant. However, six or eight blossoms can be grown to a plant and still be six inches in diameter.

About September first, buds will begin to appear on the October flowering plants. The plants must be inspected early each morning (buds are brittle in the early hours) to keep all buds off except those desired for bloom or you can also trim your house plants. Choose the healthiest bud in the cluster at the tip of each stem and roll all other buds out with your thumb as soon as buds are large enough to distinguish. Also. buds will pop out in each leaf axil. These must be rolled out. It takes but a few minutes daily to keep all unwanted buds rolled out. I use the expression "rolled out" because it is so much safer and easier to "roll out than "pinch out.

The successful gardener must establish a system of pest control. I find that when the plants are given a weekly spraying with materials that take care of our worst pests such as red spider, aphids, grasshoppers, and the 12-spotted beetle, we have no trouble.

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